Posts Tagged ‘norway’

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Oslo expeditions

July 22nd, 2018

My five days in Oslo were packed and I still left with the impression there was much more to see. When my flight home got delayed I was annoyed because there were still a few hours to go out and see the museums I’d missed — let alone a ferry trip I’d meant to take to the islands — but not quite enough time to do any of those. In a way it was Stockholm all over again: I should have booked a couple more days. Ah well, better to err on the side of taking off before you’ve seen it all and get bored I suppose.

Since I went on fewer tours than I did in Stockholm I’ll go into each tour individually, though I’m saving all the outdoor art segments for the next post.

 
Oslo
Oslo Oslo
 

Free Tour Oslo City

This free (donation requested) tour hits many tourist friendly destinations. Starting at the tiger statue outside Oslo S, it heads to a view of the Opera House, up to the main square of Christiania/New Oslo, over to the fortress, to the waterfront, City Hall, and finally to parliament. That list isn’t comprehensive but covers the gist of it.

Opening hours permitting the tour goes inside Oslo’s City Hall. While the building doesn’t look like much from the outside the interior has wall to wall murals covering various art deco styles. Sculptures in the courtyard outside built into the walls have typical arts and crafts designs.

The tour doesn’t sugarcoat the dark side of Oslo’s history during its occupation by Nazi Germany. A number of plaques on the ground written in Norwegian have a person’s name and the word “Auschwitz” — you can easily guess what that means. After the tour guide pointed these out I began spotting them all over Oslo.

 
Oslo
Oslo Oslo
 

After the tour ended I wandered back to check out the Opera House firsthand. Or maybe “firstfoot” would be a more appropriate term as the exterior of the building is an enormous sloping plaza. It’s currently surrounded by neighborhood construction on two sides — and water on two others — but you can still visit via a small bridge. While the outdoor space is always open, the indoor lobby and restaurant have posted hours.

I’m told the Opera House plaza can get very slippery during the winter. During the summer the white exterior is almost blinding to look at. Either way you need to watch your step due to the uneven surface. Seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen, or at least that’s how it would end up in the US.

 
Oslo
 

At my host’s suggestion I visited the botanical garden. No tour here, just a serene and impeccably maintained garden filled with exotic plants. It’s a perfect spot away from the crowds to sit around and sip a cold coffee on a hot summer day — you can bring your own or visit the cafe in the middle of the garden.

It’s free to visit but they have a donation box for those inclined to contribute.

 
Oslo Oslo
 

The Culinary City Walk

This food tour is from the same company that runs the food tour I went on in Stockholm. Oddly, while waiting at the meeting point for the tour guide to show up I was mistaken both for the tour guide and for a participant in a nearby Pokemon Go event.

The first proper stop on the tour was Mathallen, a hip modern food hall built into an old industrial brick building. This stop introduced me to Norwegian brown cheese, a caramelized dairy product (not technically cheese) often eaten at breakfast with waffles or crepes. Personally I though it was fine, though some find it quite divisive.

We took a long winding stroll to reach our next destination on the waterfront. As an aside I spotted a taco truck parked by the streetcar stop on the waterfront, which I went back to later on my own. The tacos were surprisingly good, and I had a lime Jarritos to go with it. Little taste of “home” as it were.

Anyway, back to the tour. We went to a seafood-focused restaurant on the waterfront called Rorbua where we were served a large sampler platter. Mine was all seafood, but the meat eaters in the group were served some rather exotic meats including whale and reindeer (sorry, Rudolph.) Not everyone seemed to have the stomach for eating whale. As far as seafood the trout and shrimp were particularly tasty.

Unlike the Stockholm tour where we ended on coffee, the food tour in Oslo ended at a bar with a beer tasting. Seemed a little early for beer, but most of us went along with it. All of it was brewed in Norway yet in traditional British styles. The only one that stood out to me was an IPA that had a more subtle hoppiness than the in-your-face styles we tend to have at home in California.

As we departed the tour feeling a little tired from all the food and beer, a bunch of protestors marched outside the bar towards city hall as if it jolt us awake on cue. I think they were protesting against the imprisonment of an East Turkestan independence advocate, though the connection to Oslo’s city politics (if any) was entirely lost on me.

 
Oslo
 

Discover the Charming Westside of Oslo

Here we have it: the first tour on this trip that was a total bust. Maybe the online info is just outdated, but the guide never showed up.

Since I hadn’t paid in advance there wasn’t much to be mad about, just a little annoyed that I’d brought 200 NOK in payment. The tour was supposed to start near the royal palace (see above photo) so I just wandered around the gardens for a little while. The gardens are open to the public and pretty popular with tourists; palace grounds include a small park, a duck pond, and oddly enough a beehive. There’s probably a joke about a queen bee in there somewhere.

The palace gardens were hosting a small temporary sculpture exhibit I found amusing, which got me thinking — the tour was supposed to end at the Frogner Park sculpture garden, so why not just head over there? After all it’s not like the sun was going to set.

So I hoped on a streetcar and visited Frogner Park. Would have been nice to have a tour guide, but the evening itself wasn’t a total failure. I’ll go into all the sculptures in the next post.

 
Oslo Oslo Oslo
 

Hipster Oslo (Grünerløkka)

I wanted someone to take me around the neighborhood where I was staying and discovered this tour almost at the last minute. A young family had signed up for the tour even more at the last minute than I did, moments after the guide showed up.

I highly recommend this one — it’s inexpensive, goes into great detail, takes you to many historical spots in the area, and the guide was practically a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. If you want an off the beaten path tour of Oslo, this is it.

The tour was so long I’ll just stick to the highlights. It starts off in the labor union square on the edge of the neighborhood, passes by a former bathhouse, then snakes through a few streets lined with boutiques and restaurants, before hitting the campus of a world renowned art university and along the river, highlighting a couple of waterfalls.

Continuing up a hill we passed a hip outdoor area lined with street art (also in the next post, I promise) followed by a steep street lined with some of the oldest surviving wood buildings in Oslo. Going around a corner or two we went through a cemetery where many famous locals were buried, including Edvard Munch.

All the famous individuals buried there had QR codes next to their graves in case you wanted to look up their obituaries. Someone had left a handmade book at Munch’s grave of their own sketches of Munch’s famous paintings, including The Scream. It reminded me of a quote from the show Westworld — “Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin never died; they simply became music.” There’s a certain truth in this idea.

Passing through the cemetery we were supposed to go through a church but it was closed due to construction. Instead we detoured around a communal garden and ended the tour at the Mathallen food hall.

As we parted ways I pulled the 200 NOK note out of my pocket I had leftover from the no-show tour and handed it to the guide as a tip — a 100% tip. She was clearly surprised, but it was my last full day in Norway. I enjoyed the tour and had no interest in bringing Norwegian currency back with me. Hopefully big tips aren’t considered insulting or anything.

 
Oslo
 

Once again back at Mathallen I was hungry and ready to try something new. After washing up at the bathrooms in the basement I sat down at a Spanish food stall serving pintxos. Much like traditional Scandinavian cuisine, pintxos are open face sandwiches with various toppings. Or kind of like avocado toast back home… hmmm, who else would grab lunch at a place like this in Oslo?

The guy next to me kept trying to order in barely passable Spanish. I couldn’t help snickering when the employees replied in English. At some point he turned to me and said “Hey, where you from?”
“San Francisco.”
“Oh? Me too! What neighborhood?”
“The Mission. You?”
“Twin Peaks,” he replied.

We got to chatting a little before we both left separately… and then we both wound up in line at Tim Wendelboe, an espresso shop that seemed remarkably familiar. I ordered an espresso and after a long wait it arrived with a shot glass of sparkling mineral water. I kept looking around for the Blue Bottle logo, yet it was nowhere to be found.

 
Oslo Oslo Oslo
 

Later on my last night I went to explore the Akershus Fortress, which sits on a hill above the waterfront. Even though its military presence is long gone the area is still patrolled by royal guards with bayonets. Its clearly all for show as the guards seemed happy to take photos with tourists.

From the fortress there’s a good view of the waterfront — a sensible place for a fortress. Cruise ships dock just outside the fortress though, so if there’s one in the way the views may not be so hot.

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Oslo

July 17th, 2018

Oslo
 

Following the wedding in Greece I flew to visit another city I’d never been to: Oslo, Norway. Yup, I took a V-shaped trip through Europe — not the most efficient plan, but this is what happens when you base your vacations around cheap airfare.

At first I worried Oslo would be a smaller version of Stockholm. After all it’s another old Scandinavian waterfront city, and to make matters potentially worse somehow I’d inadvertently booked an Airbnb in the hip part of Oslo just as I’d done in Stockholm.

Fortunately this worry was unfounded; both cities have their own character. Compared to Stockholm, Oslo has significantly more public spaces, outdoor artwork (I’ll get to that in another post), and an embrace of modern architecture.

 
Oslo Oslo Oslo
 

Getting from the airport to central Oslo is simple enough. There’s an express train but it’s kind of pricey and not much faster than the NSB commuter train. To take NSB from the airport I purchased a Ruter transit card and loaded a multi-day pass on the card, plus an NSB ticket. The NSB ticket machines ask you where you’re going, load the ticket onto the Ruter card, and tell you which platform to wait on.

A quick train ride later and I was at Oslo S. My host had suggested taking a Ruter bus to the Airbnb, but after sitting on an airplane for several hours I decided to walk — it was only a 12 minute walk anyway, and Oslo is a fairly flat, walkable city for the most part.

What I didn’t anticipate is the apartment I’d be staying at was at the top of a four story building. After climbing all those stairs I needed to sit down for a while and cool off. Due to the heat wave at the time, and the fact that it was an attic apartment with windows on the ceiling, the “cooling off” part of the equation was not meant to be. Who knew Oslo could get so warm in the summer?

 
Oslo Oslo Oslo

I stayed in the Grünerløkka neighborhood, and no I’m still not sure how that’s pronounced. It’s home to many cafes, boutiques, bars, and restaurants serving everything from Neapolitan pizza to falafel to veggie burgers. There’s a small river running through the neighborhood and a lot of outdoor spaces including a large (and free!) botanical garden. Many of the buildings have backyards, often used as outdoor seating for restaurants.

Since Norway is notoriously expensive and I was staying in an apartment with a full kitchen, I opted to buy groceries and eat in about half the time. Just on the block I stayed on were a couple of chain grocery stores, a butcher shop, and two produce markets. As I later found on a walking tour the area also has an upscale food hall — point is, the neighborhood’s a foodie heaven. My preconceptions about Norwegian cuisine being bland and boring were wildly wrong.

 
Oslo
 

This is a side tangent but that botanical garden has something I’d never seen before: a robot lawn mower. It wandered around sort of like a Roomba, cutting the grass before returning to its docking station. Sounds like a way to accidentally lose a toe, but their website claims it’s perfectly safe.

 
Oslo
 

As for getting around I took the Ruter streetcars on a daily basis. They’ll take you pretty much anywhere, assuming you’re able to climb a few stairs to board them. The stops all feature maps with real time arrival information. They’re also well integrated with Google Maps directions. Sometimes Google Maps suggested I take a bus instead but I always opted for the streetcars as I found them more charming, if a little cramped at times.

In Oslo the streetcars always have right of way so you have to be careful when you’re walking — they will not stop for you!

 
Oslo
 

Just as in Sweden the government of Norway controls all alcohol sales. To purchase anything harder than light beer you have to visit a chain store called “Vinmonopolet,” which translates to the amusingly honest phrase “Wine Monopoly.”

I noticed a few parks had small congregations of what I assumed were homeless people living there. However a tour guide later corrected this assumption — Norway has a problem with heroin, and the folks squatting in the parks were most likely addicts. So maybe their government is solving the wrong problem with their semi-prohibition on liquor. That said I never saw a single needle on the streets.

In the following posts I’ll go into tours I went on Oslo and the outdoor sculptures and art. During my brief visit to Oslo the weather didn’t lend itself to spending time indoors, so no — I didn’t visit the most famous painting there. Nevertheless, the legacy of Edvard Munch is all over Oslo.